“For the last few days at Labour’s conference in Liverpool, the only way to get decent mobile coverage was to stand next to the Mersey and wave your phone towards Birkenhead. Reportedly, over 18,000 passes were issued for the conference – a new record. It’s little wonder the mobile network couldn’t cope with so many people crammed into one place.
The level of interest in Labour’s conference reflects growing confidence that they’ll form the next government. And Liverpool was very busy indeed - a packed exhibition hall, fringes overspilling, long queues for key speeches. Comfy chairs were a precious commodity. If it hadn’t been so unseasonably mild with many sitting outside, the venue would have been seriously overcrowded.
The contrast with the Tory conference last week was stark. There was a real sense of energy and confidence projected out of Liverpool. Labour was unified, disciplined and focused on the job at hand – presenting themselves as a government-in-waiting. Even the weather was better!
For Keir Starmer, he will feel he has exceeded his objective for the week. He got through conference without too many internal splits and self-inflicted gaffes. Even a protestor didn’t knock him off his stride – and he used his speech to begin fleshing out in detail on what to date have been five rather vague missions. He might not have got quite the full media exposure he would have liked, but Labour can’t control world events.
It is also notable that Labour seemed to have learned quickly from the Uxbridge by-election, where they were easily knocked off their stride by the Tory campaign. They didn’t allow last week’s Tory conference – complete with policy traps in a range of areas – to set the agenda. Labour stuck to their narrative, which is a further sign of their growing confidence.
A thread running through the conference was the importance of getting the country building as the driver of economic growth. Last week, the Conservatives barely mentioned housing – Rishi Sunak’s speech only touching on it in the context of Euston and HS2. Labour seized the chance to fill the vacuum with a series of announcements on housing and planning reform, from new towns and freeing up some green belt land - all framed within the eye-catching (if somewhat ambitious) commitment to build 1.5million homes over five years. It isn’t clear exactly how much difference some of these will make – and the party clearly prefers reforms within the current planning system rather than reform of the system – but the fact Labour is keen to own this agenda is important in its own right.
There was also a strong commitment to further devolution – putting decision making in the hands of local people. But there is a tension here which Labour will have to grapple with – localism is itself a major reason why it is so hard to build homes and infrastructure in Britain. Key to Labour’s policy announcements on housing and planning is a stronger top-down focus, to push through planning and development – the two are hard to reconcile.
Only two Labour leaders of the opposition since 1945 have gone on to become Prime Minister - the chances of Keir Starmer becoming the third improved this week. Yet, a General Election could still be 14 months away, so the campaign has a long way yet to run. Between now and then, there are key electoral tests, not least two upcoming by-elections and also the race for City Hall. Labour still has more to do to develop a compelling policy offer with the details of how they’ll be funded.”
Nick Bowes, Managing Director, Insight
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MERRY ACROSS THE MERSEY
KEIR, THERE AND EVERYWHERE: Labour leader Keir Starmer warned his party against appearing ‘giddy’ as they gathered in Liverpool for their annual conference.
Planning to win: The overwhelming message of this year’s conference for those interested in the built environment was Labour’s commitment to build the critical infrastructure and new homes as part of a wider plan to boost economic growth.
Clear ambitions: First out of the blocks was Shadow Levelling Up Secretary Angela Rayner, who pledged the biggest increase in affordable housing ‘in a generation’ with Government grants freed up to help councils and housing associations accelerate building.
We will if you won’t: Rayner also committed Labour to reform leasehold and the private rental sector, should the Government fail to do so before the election.
Below the belt: Labour’s pledge to deliver 1.5m new homes would be achieved in part through reviewing the Green Belt, removing unloved portions such as car parks, scrubland and ‘wasteland’, which the party dubbed ‘grey belt’.
New New Towns: Starmer signalled that Labour would deliver a new generation of ‘Labour new towns’ built in areas of high prospective growth.
Non je ne regrette rien? Speaking on the Today Programme, Starmer said he would 'override' local opposition and take on local MPs and councils in order to get building.
Going local: Labour also committed to extending further powers for housing and transport to local councils with ‘Whitehall-style funding settlements.’ Starmer railed against the ‘high walls’ of Westminster, pledging to put communities back in control, although he did not go into detail on how this would square with more top down focus on planning.
Devil in the detail: The Local Government Chronicle reports that Starmer’s pledges on devolution were ‘much vaguer’ than announced in pre-speech briefings, leaving councils ‘guessing’ on issues of finance and powers.
Driving forward? Shadow Transport Secretary Louise Haigh recommitted the Labour Party to rail nationalisation and local control of bus services. Absent from front bench speeches was a commitment to build HS2 in full, instead subject of a review, but Haigh said Northern Powerhouse Rail would be built.
Grow for victory: Economic growth, partnerships with business, and a central promise of opportunity for everyone made for a Labour Conference which could well be the party’s last in opposition.
I RAN (SO FAR AWAY): Trading transatlantic diplomacy for party politics, Khan’s appearances at Labour Conference have been relatively low-key.
Wonderful Life: Fringe appearances by the Mayor included meeting a delegation from youth charity Patchwork Foundation, a rousing speech to the Labour Party Irish Society, and leading the charge for a green transition with Labour’s Environment Campaign, SERA.
You’ll Never Stop Me Loving You: Khan said that Labour Leader Keir Starmer’s speech was the ‘leadership our country needs.’ Though it’s notable that Starmer failed to mention Khan (unlike Rishi Sunak namechecking Susan Hall) – or, for that matter, any of the Labour mayors…
Talking Loud and Clear: Within the context of the tragic events in Israel, Khan was unequivocal in his support for Jewish Londoners, stating that no one has ‘the right to incite hatred’ in London. Khan also cemented his support for interfaith dialogue at a breakfast event organised by the Jewish Labour Movement, as well as stating that ‘Refugees are welcome’ at the Daily Mirror’s ‘People Move’ event celebrating refugees and migrants.
Yesterday: Given the impact on London of international events, Khan left Liverpool early to visit a restaurant in Golder’s Green as a show of support for the Jewish community.
The Story of the Blues: After a week of headlines, Khan responded to Conservative mayoral candidate Susan Hall’s comments suggesting Jewish Londoners were ‘frightened’ of his ‘divisive attitudes’. Along with meeting victims of vandalism in Golders Green, Khan said he feared a ‘re-run’ of the 2016 election and accused the Conservatives of ‘weaponising Jewish people.’ Let’s hope, in this fractious time, we can avoid a campaign of this nature.
Relax: Khan rushed to reassure Londoners, as fears grow that an explosion of bed bugs in Paris might spread to the capital, with some reported sightings already on the tube network.
LONDON PLANNING ROUNDUP
- King’s Road Properties’ plans to redevelop its retail site on the King’s Road, Chelsea have been approved by Kensington and Chelsea Council. The plans include doubling the current floor space of the part three, part four storey building to deliver 64,721 sq m of office workspace and commercial space.
- Southwark Council has granted planning permission for British Land’s plans to deliver two residential-led mixed-use sites at its Canada Water development. The 1.7ha ‘Zone G’ plans include 384 homes, 42% of which will be affordable, across five buildings between five and 30 storeys in height.
- Southwark Council has also approved British Land’s plans to develop a 140,000 sq ft logistics hub at Mandela Way. The four-floor urban ‘last-minute’ logistics site is situated at the former car pound for Southwark Council and is designed as ‘low-carbon’ as part of British Land’s 2.9m sq ft logistics pipeline.
- Landsec has confirmed that it will begin the delivery of its 380,000 sq ft net zero office scheme at Timber Square in Southwark with an expected completion date of the end of 2025, despite not being pre-let to a tenant and having delayed the construction due to uncertainty surrounding property values. Southwark Council granted planning permission for the cross-laminated timber scheme in December 2020. The developer has appointed Mace Group to deliver the development.
- PineBridge Benson Elliot’s (PBBE) plans to demolish and redevelop offices at Tower Hill have been approved by the City of London Corporation. PBBE will demolish the current six-storey building to deliver four linked buildings of up to 11 storeys in height, delivering 215,000 sq ft of office floor space above 14,000 sq ft of ground floor retail and hospitality space.
- Long Harbour and St George have agreed a forward purchase for a 370-home Build-to-Rent scheme as part of the Beaufort Park masterplan in Colindale. Construction is currently underway to deliver the project, building in four blocks between seven and 16 storeys. St George received planning permission for the scheme in November 2020 from Barnet Council.
- Hill Residential has submitted new plans to deliver its 114-home ‘Whalebones’ scheme (40% affordable) on farmland in Chipping Barnet. Previous proposals in 2019 were rejected by Barnet Council, with the Mayor of London in 2021 not intervening. The revised proposals have reduced the number of homes down from 152 and deliver additional landscaping.
- The Crown Estate has announced the appointment of Karen Baines as its new Marketing Director across its London and Regional portfolios.
- Jackie Sadek has been announced as Chair of the UK Innovation Corridor.
- The London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) has appointed Karim Fatehi MBE as Interim Chief Executive Officer, taking over with immediate effect from Richard Burge.
- Labour held seats in three by-elections last week. Tom Swaine-Jameson has been elected as a new councillor for Vauxhall in Lambeth, while in Haringey, Liam Carroll has been elected as a councillor for White Hart Lane ward and Mark Grosskopf has been elected as a councillor for South Tottenham ward.
- The Government has announced a team of commissioners appointed at Birmingham City Council ‘to fix serious problems’ after the local authority issued a section 114 notice last month. The team includes former CEO of the London boroughs of Hackney and Barnet, Max Caller CBE and current LB of Bexley CEO Jackie Belton, with former Labour Mayor of Tower Hamlets and London Assembly Member, John Biggs, acting as a political adviser.
- Former Leader of Croydon Council, Hamida Ali, has joined new think tank Future Governance Forum, as its Head of Programmes & Policy, focusing on ‘concentrating new principles for better government.’
- Michèle Dix has been appointed as a new Commissioner of the National Infrastructure Commission.
- Amit Sharma has been appointed as the new Artistic Director and CEO of the Kiln Theatre.
WHAT NEXT FOR EUSTON?
Terminus tribulations: Last week, the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, confirmed that while Phase 2 of HS2 will not be going ahead, the railway will still in fact reach Euston Station, rather than terminate at Old Oak Common as was feared. Initial reactions to the news were positive.
Under new management: However, HS2 Ltd has been stripped of responsibility for Euston, with the Government floating the setting up of a Euston Development Zone and the private sector delivering a wider commercial and residential scheme, including up to 10,000 new homes.
Money, Money, Money: All £6.5billion of public money previously earmarked for the project was removed by the Government.
Shrunken ambitions: Since then, more details have emerged, with it confirmed that HS2 will only reach Euston if private funding is secured, while the Government’s Network North document also specifies that HS2 will be served by only six platforms (compared to the previous 10), with wider improvements to the tube including a pedestrian tunnel to Euston Square Tube station no longer delivered.
Khan’s concerns: The Mayor of London has written to the Prime Minister to express his concerns, saying that the reliance on private investment is ‘wishful thinking’ and asking for reassurance that the Government will ‘act as 'funder of last resort'’ if needed. In response, the Government said that there is already ‘extensive interest’ from the private sector.
Regrets? Over the weekend, it was reported that Sunak had rejected very similar plans for Euston during his time as Chancellor. In 2020, Lendlease offered to partner with the Government on the redevelopment of the station, which, according to former HS2 Chairman, Allan Cook, would have sped up the project and reduced the cost.
What now? Well, for now, work is ongoing and while the Leader of Camden Council Cllr Georgia Gould has called for the borough to be given ‘the power to lead and make our vision for Euston – and the life-changing opportunities that it will provide – a reality’, there are a number of questions that still need to be answered.
Desperately seeking clarity: Not least – will there be public money available, is the government planning for the private sector to fund the whole project, will the Development Corporation be a Mayoral one or a Government one, and most important of all, given the chaos with the scheme, who is the client for the project?
FROM POLL TO POLL
KING OF THE ROAD: The Conservative Party Conference offered a chance for Rishi Sunak to reset his leadership image and speak directly to the people. Unfortunately, polls suggest a conference overshadowed by HS2 has failed to garner support.
The Gambler: A poll from Opinium published at the weekend saw no change in the Conservatives’ vote share with Labour’s lead increasing by three points to a total of 13 points ahead.
Man of Constant Sorrow: Sunak’s personal polling as Prime Minister has continued to deteriorate since November 2022. According to POLITICO’s Poll of Polls, 67% disapprove of his leadership.
Can the Circle Be Unbroken: What may give Sunak a glimmer of hope is that Starmer’s personal polling isn’t sparkling either. Last week, Ipsos Mori polling had him at -14% favourability.
I Walk the Line: But the Labour Party’s lead is pretty consistent and substantial, with readers from all the leading UK news sources, save for the Daily Mail, favouring the party. Even readers of the typically Labour-critical Telegraph, Express and The Sun are showing an eight point lead for the party.
Take Me Home, Country Roads: A unique poll from YouGov, following Labour’s conference, suggests the party’s policy of building more new towns is popular, even with Conservative voters, with a net score of +25% approval.
- The New York Post’s glowing review of our city’s built environment.
- Labour’s plans for the UK’s arts and culture sectors.
- Research which found that living in a privately rented home is linked to faster biological ageing.
- The latest polling showing just how confused people are about ESG.
- Reading all about Ealing’s newest residents who were introduced to their new home earlier today.
GIA READIES FOR GROWTH
It’s been a big week for our client GIA. The surveying consultancy with specialist teams covering rights to light, daylight and sunlight, wind analysis, as well as building consultancy, measured survey and neighbourly matters announced a new leadership structure along with new investment to ready it for growth. Gordon Ingram, who founded the business 30 years ago, becomes Chairman, whilst Sam Wallis, formerly Managing Partner of GIA North has been promoted to CEO. The investment will enable GIA to accelerate growth across the UK and further expand its use of pioneering technology to help solve complex planning issues. Working with LCA’s media specialists the news has already been picked up across trade and regional media including EG, Place Northwest, and Business Insider.
LCA AT LABOUR CONFERENCE
A team from LCA was up in Liverpool this week monitoring the latest political developments at the Labour party conference. On Monday evening, we hosted a drinks reception at Revolución de Cuba in the city’s stunning Albert Dock, where we were joined by clients, associates and some of London’s key opinion formers and decision makers (including Deputy Mayor for Housing, Tom Copley and Deputy Mayor for Transport, Seb Dance, pictured along with LCA’s Managing Directors Sam Emery and Jane Groom). The evening was a great success and provided a relaxed opportunity to discuss some of the conference’s policy announcements and political gossip with friends and colleagues from across the public, private and voluntary sector. We even got to treated to a slice of cake, as we also celebrated the birthday of LCA’s Nick Bowes!
Photos courtesy of the LCA Team
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